One World — Starting a business in Nigeria is no picnic. Still, an increasing number of entrepreneurs are focusing on their own manufacturing industry, in spite of power cuts and bureaucratic hassle. Can they contribute to the country’s economic revival?
Moses Barnabas’ little hammer is pounding the bright pink-coloured fabric he just glued onto the lining, to drive any air bubbles from between the layers of cloth. When the piece of traditional Nigerian aso-oke fabric has dried, it will be pulled over the shoemaker’s last to get its shape. In this manner, Nigerian Moses and his colleagues manufacture about twenty pairs of exclusive handmade shoes of the local brand Ethnik. In university, Moses read biology, but he is all too happy to have found any employment at all in megalopolis Lagos. ‘Fashion is behaviour too,’ remarks the 31-year-old Ethnik employee in the workshop behind a bungalow in the middle-class neighbourhood Surulere. ‘Half of my classmates are still looking for a job. I see more opportunities here. Made in Nigeria has the future.’
Nigeria’s economy finds itself in stormy waters. The drop of the oil price ended years of economic growth and plunged Africa’s most populous country into a deep recession. The rate of the naira plummeted, making imports for Nigerians almost thrice as expensive, whereas most of the goods sold in Nigerian supermarkets, shops, and open-air markets have been manufactured abroad.
The Nigerian manufacturing industry represents less than 10 percent of the Gross National Product – in comparison, in countries like China and South Korea it is over 30 percent. Economists have agreed for years that this needs to change, and the recent crisis also has Nigerian policymakers convinced of the importance of the manufacturing industry. Even President Muhammadu Buhari recently encouraged his countrymen to buy ‘Made in Nigeria’.
Can this interest for local production, one that has grown out of necessity, contribute to a growth of wealth as well as a lower unemployment rate – which, according to the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics, is currently around 20 percent?
Tunde Owolabi thinks so. When he started Ethnik in early 2015, the designer and owner of the local shoe brand of hand-woven aso-oke employed only four people, but now that number has grown to nine. ‘Ten, if you count my wife who does the accounts,’ Owolabi says with a smile. The 38-year-old entrepreneur trusts his company will keep growing in the future.
Starting a business in Nigeria is no picnic. There aren’t many countries in the world where public electricity supply is so lamentable, the bureaucratic hassle to start a business takes up so much time, and borrowing from the bank is so expensive. And yet Thessa Bagu, who has been a consultant since 2007 for international companies interested in the Nigerian market, has seen a change in Nigerian local entrepreneurship: ‘Nowadays Nigerians say: We don’t care if it is difficult, we are going to produce locally.’
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